It was never a question that James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) would be getting a sequel – as the highest-grossing film in history, the only question was: how many sequels would it be getting? Much speculation has surrounded that question, fueled by the producers, cast and even Cameron himself, but today we have an answer.

Avatar will be getting not two, but three sequels, to be filmed simultaneously with production beginning in 2014. Avatar 2 is expected to release in December 2016, Avatar 3 will follow in December 2017, with Avatar 4 closing things out in December 2018.

Variety reports that not only has Fox found a way of making the most out of Avatar‘s success – following a shooting and release structure similar to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy – but have also found the talent to help make it possible. Just yesterday came news that Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) had been brought on to help with writing duties for Avatar 2, and these details also come with an announcement that Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planets of the Apes), and Shane Salerno (Savages) have also been added to the team developing scripts for the next three films in the series.

It seems that the conversation (and confusion) over Avatar‘s sequels began almost immediately after the first film was released. For his part, Cameron has made no secret of the fact that he will be going underwater for his next trip to Pandora, and that for the foreseeable future he will be involved with nothing but the Avatar series. The writers brought on to aid Cameron have some respectable credentials, but the tallest order – and likely the biggest hurdle – will be the uncompromising director’s desire to master underwater motion-capture.

It’s hard to say whether the three years until release is enough time to solve that problem, but the technical challenge may be part of the reason production won’t be beginning this year, as previously rumored. This announcement will raise questions about the story, since Cameron previously claimed that Avatar 2 and 3 would complete a three-film story arc he had in his mind from the beginning. It’s too early to tell if the addition of yet another sequel came from the director’s mind, or the studio’s wishes.

Before anyone assumes the latter, it’s worth reminding everyone that Sigourney Weaver knew about the sequels shooting back-to-back over a year ago, apparently even before producer Jon Landau did. Leaks or late decisions aside, it’s no surprise that the films will be shot simultaneously, since it’s the main way of minimizing the colossal costs of the production. And if the schedule holds true, fans of the original film will have three straight years of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and the rest of the Navi to look forward to. If you can think of a better way of repaying patience, we’d like to hear it.

What do you think of these plans for the Avatar franchise? Is it too much too soon, or has the recent slate of wannabe-epics and underused 3D convinced you that Cameron knows something other directors don’t?

The Avatar sequels are set to begin production in 2014. Avatar 2 is scheduled for release in December 2016, Avatar 3 in December 2017, and Avatar 4 lastly in December 2018.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Source: Variety